Stuart Marais, who finished second at the African Continental MTB Cross-Country Championships last year, is looking for another top result in the race that takes place in Windhoek, Namibia, this weekend.
“The competition [level] is substantially higher than last year.
“We all race to win and in the champs there are only three positions that matter, so I’ll definitely be going for one of them.”
He said with most of the top South African riders on the start list it was going to be more like a national race than anything else.
“My biggest threat would obviously be defending champion Alan [Hatherly]. Then there are Matthew [Beers], Arno [du Toit], Gert [Heyns] and Jan [Withaar], to name a few.”
The 30-year-old added that last year was very challenging and the living and travelling conditions in Egypt were “a nightmare”.
“Namibia has been nothing but amazing since I arrived here and the build-up race we did last weekend was good preparation.”
He said he had different strategies, which he tried out on Saturday, but which would remain under lock and key until the race.
“This is the last race of a three-week block of racing, so it’s just been a matter of sharpening the pencil and maintaining my speed while trying to recover from the efforts.”
The Howick MTB Classic winner added that the course was “relatively old school” with two longish climbs and two major descents, which suited him “fairly well”.
“I also really enjoy the course. It has a fair number of fun downhills and jumps which takes your mind off the racing somewhat.
“I’ve been really impressed with the riding here. They [Namibia] have some amazing trails which we’ve been exploring on our off days.
“The altitude is a bit higher than I’m used to, but having been here for a few days it’s not as much of a concern as last weekend.”
Marais said this race had been on his calendar for a while and the points were invaluable.
“It’s really a highlight of the year and it’s great to have an African champs close to SA where more riders have been able to make the journey.
“It feels like we might have a race on our hands. That makes things a bit more exciting.
“Good luck to everyone who has made it here and I’d like to thank the Namibian [cycling] federation for making this a world-class event.”